Holding out for better times
Brad Stevermer has certainly seen many changes in agriculture during his many years on the farm.
He is one of eight children born to Bill and Cathy Stevermer and the youngest of three boys raised on a farm south of Easton. While his older brothers were more interested in crop farming, Brad had an affinity for raising livestock.
“I think being in 4-H and raising and showing pigs furthered my interest in working with farm animals,” Stevermer says.
He graduated from United South Central High School in Wells and then was off to college at the University of Wisconsin River Falls. After graduating from college in 2002 he brought his ag economics degree back to Easton and joined the family farm operation.
“That is when the real education began,” he chuckles. “I think it is called the school of hard knocks.”
His father, who passed away in 2012, began getting Brad involved in some ownership of the operation.
“In 2004 I started to rent some smaller hog sites and grow the hog operation,” Stevermer says. “The operation ran that way until 2007 when we sold all of the sows, which were housed at the home farm.”
A few years later the operation began growing again.
“Corn prices were high in 2008 and 2009 which led to higher feed prices,” Stevermer explains. “A lot of hog producers decided to leave the business and bigger barns became available.”
He says to fill the barns he would usually buy isoweans (pigs which are weaned to a different location away from where the sows are located) on contract from other producers.
“In 2014 I bought sow farms in Nebraska and Missouri and was back to owning sows again,” Stevermer comments. “Those two states have a much lower hog density population and it is more conducive to avoiding certain diseases than it would be if the barns were located in more heavily populated hog areas. When PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) came along, it no longer worked to have sows, nursery pigs and finishing animals on the same site.”
Along with the challenge of raising healthy pigs, Stevermer says the economic side of the business has been even more of a challenge to deal with.
“Hogs and dairy might be about the toughest businesses to be in right now,” Stevermer states. “Looking back over the last 12 years, we have had to deal with high corn prices, lack of positive margins, trade wars and now COVID-19. A lot of people are tired of raising hogs.”
There are other concerns, according to Stevermer.
“People ask me what the price of pigs is and I do not know how to answer anymore,” he remarks. “The price discrepancy is so varied depending on the contract you are on. The onset of COVID-19 has really made the price spread wide. I think there has been over-contracting of hogs by the packers so there is a limited number of cash hogs to price. There is no flexibility in the system.”
As Stevermer points out, the meatpacking industry is under a lot of scrutiny right now.
“There is already a lawsuit against the beef meatpackers for price fixing,” he says. “And the chicken and hog processors could be next.”
Stevermer shares what has been one of the keys to his operation.
“I do a lot of hedging,” he comments. “I work hard and spend a lot of time on my commodity marketing.”
Stevermer lives on the farm he was raised on. He married Heidi in 2014 and they have two children, a four-year old son named Max and a two-year daughter named Lily. Heidi is employed as a nurse practitioner for Optimal Performance Specialists in Blue Earth and Mapleton.
“I still do the chores on the home place,” he says. “It helps me stay connected to how the hogs are doing and any health concerns they may be facing.”
He shares he is also thankful for all of his employees.
“I have two excellent office managers in Kelcy Beck and Steve Swehla who work out of an office in Easton. I also have a great field guy in Nate Scheid,” Stevermer shares. “I am fortunate to have good people working for me.”
His business has also been directly affected by COVID-19.
“Half of my eight employees at the Nebraska sow farm got COVID-19,” he shares. “But they have all recovered and are doing fine.”
He continues with his thoughts on the future.
“I think we are at a pivotal point in the industry. I do not think we are going to see a lot of growth but we will see more consolidation within the industry. Building costs are getting prohibitive,” Stevermer offers. “I do think we will see more producer-owned packing plants as we go forward. It could lead to a better future.”